Monday, December 29, 2014

Hotel Impossible, Systems, and Schools

We're a cable-less home, so when we land on a favorite series, we tend to binge watch. When the Travel Channel and the Food Network dropped packages of shows on Netflix, we found several "intervention" shows that we enjoyed, but none so much as Hotel Impossible.

The premise is unsurprising-- a hotel that's in trouble gets a visit from an expert who tries to diagnose and treat major ailments in a couple of days. We like the host (Anthony Melchiorri) who is blunt, but seems really passionate about hotels and displays some real managerial skills on the show. He's forceful, yet respectful, and he has a fun working relationship with the lead designer on the show, Blanche (we are never happy when it's a non-Blanche episode), as opposed to some of the prima donnas who host similar shows on similar networks.

It's reality television, which means its connection to reality is perhaps contrived at times. But it still offers some interesting lessons in How To Be a Turnaround Expert that might be applicable in other situations such as, say, turning around a school.

Respect the people who do the work. Melchiorri is always respectful of the people he's dealing with. He's respectful of the cleaning and other staff in the hotel. He listens to the people who are invested in the place, and he respects what their goals and vision are. He does not try to tell them what they are supposed to want.

Support support support. It is always clear that he is there to help. Not to berate, not to belittle, not to beat them into submission to his vision of what the hotel should be. He helps them find solutions. And as brash and New Yorky as he is, he can be incredibly patient past the point where my wife and I are hollering unkind suggestions to some folks on the show. He is particularly good at maneuvering them so that they can feel like they just had a win, even when less kind managers might have said, "My God, you suck at this. Go do something else."

Systems. Melchiorri strikes a familiar chord with me because he is a huge believer in systems. A repeated theme of the show is that successful hotels run on systems. But his use of and approach to systems is markedly different from the that of the systems guys who have been besieging public education for the past few years.

In almost every episode, Melchiorri proposes or installs a system. But it is not a one-size-fits-all system. He does not demand that the hotel change its culture and vision so that it can better use his system. And that would seem to be simple common sense-- he visits everything from 125-room beach resort hotels to a 12-room inn in Vermont, every place from Puerto Rico to Alaska. So he talks to the owners and workers, watches how the place runs, listens to what the owners want to achieve, and he develops a system that suits that particular hotel.

Imagine-- you "fix" a place based on the particular needs, goals, strengths and weaknesses of that particular place, rather than trying to beat it into the same shape as every other similar place in the country. There are certainly standards that he consistently follows (cleanliness is a biggie), but there is not just One Correct Way to run every hotel in the world.

The show is undoubtedly not everyone's cup of tea, but I can think of a few reformsters who could learn a thing or two from it.

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